B R Bhaskar Prasad on Chalo Udupi: My Food, My Land
Dalit Camera interviews B.R. Bhaskar Prasad
Inspired by the Una movement, more than 160 organisations came together for the "Chalo Udupi – Food of Our Choice; Land is Our Right" campaign on October 9th. Dalit Camera spoke to B. R. Bhaskar Prasad, a Dalit writer and activist from Nelamangala Taluk, Bengaluru, and one of the main organisers behind the "Chalo Udupi" campaign.
Introduction to B.R. Bhaskar Prasad
I am B.R. Bhaskar Prasad. I live in Bangalore's rural district, Nelamangala Taluk, Karnataka. In the past I served as the state president of "Karnataka Dalita Sanghatanegala Okkuta" (Karnataka Dalit Organisations Association) forum. I currently work with "Babasaheb Service Force" youth cadre.
I have been active on social media such as Facebook and Whatsapp for the past five years. The constant updates on the current affairs in India gave me an insight to the growing unrest in the country. For instance, our fellow human beings are being butchered/killed because of religious intolerance. I wonder if there is an end to these atrocities. I think Babasaheb Ambedkar's democratic constitution is the only answer to the preachers of "Bhagavad Gita", and the group that insists on making "Bhagavad Gita" a national text. I use social media (Facebook and Whatsapp) as a platform for my activism, which has helped me to connect with the like minded friends around Karnataka.
A Government built on violence
I blame organisations such as BJP, RSS, Shiv Sena, and the Bajrang Dal for the growing religious (Hindu) intolerance against people (especially lower caste poor people, and Muslims) who choose to eat beef. The BJP led central government under the prime ministership of Modi is also to be blamed for these atrocities against humanity in India. During one of his speeches Modi said "kill me, instead of Dalits." The irony is that Modi has a 24×7 Z-category security around him; who will dare to kill him? I think Modi perpetuates violence instead of peace through his contradictory speeches which are pro dominant castes and class. What else can a government which was built on violence promote? As we all may remember in the recent inhumane Una (Gujarat) incident, four Dalit men were thrashed for skinning a dead cow by the Gau Rakshak Sangh ("Cow Protection organization"). The incident was recorded on a cell phone so it grabbed the nation's attention.
Similar incidents are the daily lived experiences of Dalit communities in Karnataka as well. Violence against Dalits on the basis of religion and caste are taking a toll on Dalits in Karnataka. For example in Kunigal (a Taluk in Karnataka), five Dalit families used 18 acres of land to cultivate crops and feed their families. The upper caste groups in the Taluk intended to build a temple on the land that was possessed by the five Dalit families. These five families were then stripped off their livelihood. Neither the police, nor the activists were able to help the Dalit families because of the political influence of the upper caste groups. I think, unless food, water, and shelter becomes top priority for human existence, there is no way out of violence in this country. In another incident in Jayapura, Koppa (Karnataka), a man was beaten for owning half a kilogram of beef in his house. Likewise, in Udupi, a man named Praveen Pujary, a working member of BJP, was murdered by running the cattle which he was transporting in his truck, even as he pleaded with the perpetrators that he was a Modi-loyalist and that he had worked for Modi's success. Praveen managed his livelihood by renting out his truck to people. What is the future of this country if this persists?
First they came for Muslims, then the Dalits, and now the OBCs
The above mentioned organisations such as RSS, BJP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, are all Hindu religious bigots. Initially these organisations used Muslims as their political targets to gain political power in the country, by dividing Hindus and Muslims in the name of religion. Later these organisations used Dalit communities for their own political benefit, by perpetuating atrocities against Dalits. After a long resistance by Dalits and Muslims, the Hindu religious organisations are now targeting the "Other Backward Classes (OBC)" youth. The working members of the above mentioned religious organisations are Dalit and OBC youth. The OBC and Dalit youths are used as tools for destroying their own communities. In Praveen Pujary's murder case the murderers and the deceased both belonged to OBC. The youths accused for murder are being jailed, and their families are helpless, because none of these organisations volunteered to help them, or their families. The divide and rule tactic is used well by BJP and RSS to gain political power in India. This has been the history of RSS led BJP government in India.
The Story behind Modi's "Pink Revolution"
Modi had always been critical of Congress, and accused them of creating a "pink revolution". In other words, the Congress government was accused of exporting beef to other countries. On the contrary, under today's BJP and Modi-led government, India exports 100 thousands tons of beef every day. India is ranked as the number one beef exporter in the world, and this is under the Modi government. I insist that every working member of RSS and BJP who are Dalits and OBCs need to understand who owns these giant beef export companies. There are six beef exporting giant companies in India, and four of these companies are owned by upper caste Hindus. I am equipped with evidence (after inspecting audit records) when I accuse these companies which export beef. These companies donate money in millions to BJP every year. On the one hand, BJP is using its followers (mostly OBC youth) as tools to work against beef consumers in the country, but on the other hand, it legalizes beef exports and also benefits from it. Indra Nooyi, a Brahmin woman from Tamil Nadu, is in close contact with Modi; she owns a beef exporting company. BJP takes donations from her. I intend to question BJP: what is the intention behind using these OBC youth to work against beef consumption in the name of the Gau Rakshak Sangh in the country? There is a need for us to analyse and understand the existing unrest in India: who benefits from it?
Inspired by Una, "Chalo Udupi"
The main intention of BJP is to create unrest among common people (especially Dalits, Muslims, Christian minorities), and divide them in the name of religion and caste for BJP's own political interests. Under these circumstances, my friends and I, inspired by the Una (Gujarat) protest, decided to conduct a similar protest in Karnataka. As we dug deeper into the history of violence against Dalits, Muslims and women in Karnataka, starting from the Kambalapalli massacre to the recent Praveen Pujary murder, we found several incidents which led us to decide on organising a protest similar to the Una Chalo protest. Violence and atrocities against women are also lived experiences for many. Rape has been used as a tool to gain control over women.
We requested people through social media to join us in our struggle and we received enormous support from every organisation possible. There is no doubt that this movement will make history in the history of movements in Karnataka. The principles of every organization may vary, but the motto of our movement has united us together. The motto of our movement is: "Food: My Choice, Land: My Right." We have the right to choose what we eat; nobody can question us. This land belongs to us, because we are the ones working on it, hence we have the right to own it. The intention is not just to own fives acres of land but also claim our rights to live and rule, and to create the possibility to resist oppression. Almost all the Dalit organisations, progressive organisations, intellectuals, progressive thinkers and literary scholars, minority groups and some political parties (such as Communist parties and Bahujan Samajwadi Party, and BVS, a students' organization) are all supportive of our movement. Over a hundred and sixty organisations in all the districts of Karnataka – from Bidar to Kolar – have been working for this movement on their own by conducting press meets and organising participation in the conference on 09-Oct at Udupi.
Why Choose Udupi?
Many people questioned us about the reason behind choosing Udupi. Udupi has a long history of being oppressive against downtrodden communities, it is like a laboratory of violence. These laboratory experiments are then used as an example to spread violence throughout the state of Karnataka. Praveen Pujary's murder was one of the reasons, and we decided to break this cycle of violence starting from Udupi. Victims of violence in Udupi have the right to lead a normal life. We intend to bring awareness throughout Karnataka, and also realise the need to end violence.
This is a 3-phase movement. Primarily a conference will be held in Udupi to bring awareness, which is the first phase of this movement. Secondly, we will be conducting regular conferences, press meets and workshops on "Food: My Choice, Land: My Right" throughout Karnataka. Thirdly, we will have a massive conference in the state capital, Bangalore, where we intend to unite like minded people in massive numbers. We will invite Dalit scholars, progressive thinkers and literary scholars from all over India to this conference. These three phases will serve as an introduction to our upcoming organisation in the future around "Food: My Choice, Land: My Right." We will fight for our rights to live and rule, which is our ultimate goal.
I request everyone to join hands with us in fighting against violence on Dalits, women, Muslims, and organisations that are, in principle, religious bigots. Let us focus on the intention of the movement and not on our subjectivities.
Watch Part 1 of the interview with B. R. Bhaskar Prasad here.
Dalit Camera (DC): How is your movement looking at the Land issue? Can you explain?
Bhaskar Prasad (BP): Since 1981, under the Land Reform Act in Karnataka, several Dalit and Other Backward Class (OBC) families have been making a living on the land the government allotted to them – 1 to 3 acres each. In 1991, there was another announcement made for Dalit and OBCs, who did not own any land, to apply for land grants; several people (belonging to Dalit and OBC classes) had applied for the land grants. But till today the Dalit and OBC communities have not received a single '"itle deed" for their plots of land allotted by the government. There was another call for applications by the government for land allotment for the benefit of the depressed classes, but there has not been any follow up on that. About 12,000 acres of land in and around Bangalore has been appropriated by some powerful politicians, real estate agents, and land mafia gangs, who are making millions of rupees illegally. It is the government's responsibility to intervene and look into the issues, but none of the governments have taken any interest in the land issues so far. The appropriators of government land are mostly powerful politicians and gang leaders, whom the government does not dare to challenge. The issue was taken to the court, and the court intervention made matters worse for the downtrodden communities. As these peasant farmers had no title deeds for the land, they were considered as illegal occupiers of the government land, and were escorted out from the land that the government had allotted to them. These thousands of acres of '"surplus" land were put on auction by the government, which in turn were bought by the powerful politicians, mighty mafia gangs, and wealthy landlords, as they were the ones could afford the prices.
The Land Reform Act was supposed to mean that the government takes the surplus land from the wealthy landowners who own thousands of acres of land, and distribute it equally among those who do not own any. But the situation is upside down today. Our demand is that every poor person irrespective of their caste, creed, gender and sexual identity should be able to own 5 acres of land, through which they will be self sufficient. That is the main motto of our movement, as the name itself indicates, "Dalita, Damanita, swabhimani horata samithi" ('A struggle for the poor and downtrodden').
DC: Would you consider converted Christian Dalits and Muslim Dalits as part of your movement/struggle?
BP: Dalit is not a caste based term, it denotes downtrodden in general. But since it has been widely used as a term for caste representation we were compelled to name our movement as "Dalita, Damanita, swabhimani horata samithi" (A struggle for the poor and downtrodden). The movement represents everyone who are oppressed socially, economically, culturally, politically , irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, religion and nationality.
Since Karnataka comprises several of the former untouchable communities in the Hindu caste hierarchy (such as Holeya and Madiga communities), we were compelled to use the term Dalit because of their high population. To avoid complications in terms of confusions with the word Dalit we used the term "damanita" (downtrodden) while naming our movement.
Everyone has a right to own a piece of land through which the poor can lead self-sufficient, respectable lives. That's our intention.
DC: The slum renovation schemes in Karnataka are not reaching the Dalits, and lots of SC/ST funds are diverted for different/other purposes, how is your movement going to tackle this?
BP: When it comes to development of this country, the development should and must be analyzed through the perspectives of Dalits. Slums are ubiquitous in cities such as Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. Unless we deal with the slums and slum dwellers' development we cannot consider this country as a developing or a developed country. Under social welfare schemes (for the benefit of the poor and needy) the government had set aside around 20,000 crore rupees in its budget. But, when we look closely, most of this money has not been used for the purpose that it had been set aside; instead that money has been used for other purposes. The government had made provision to rule out using the social welfare money for other purposes, which has not been implemented so far. For example, SC/ST development funds have been misused for other purposes such as road development projects and building cricket tournament courts and buying cricket supplies. I disagree with this stand of using SC/ST funds for other purposes by the government, because, the public road is used by all its citizens and not just SC/ST population. None of the leaders who were elected as representatives of SC/ST category look into these issues, because they are helpless because of the pressure from the political party that they were elected from. There is a huge lobbying around the issues of slums.
The citizens need to understand their voting power, their right to have equal living conditions such as 24×7 supply of water, electricity, and good shelter.
DC: What is your opinion about migrant workers living in makeshift tents in Bangalore which are not classified as slums, and who are socially and economically vulnerable – mostly Dalits, Muslims and other marginalized communities. How you are going to address their issues?
BP: I think basic human needs such as food and shelter for all its citizens must be the priority of a government. The politicians who represent us should take the responsibility. That being said, it is also the responsibility of the downtrodden communities to understand their voting power, rights and responsibilities as citizens. Most of these downtrodden communities sell their vote for liquor and clothes that the politicians offer during election campaigning. The future of a family and a country is dependent on our vote, hence one must make responsible decisions while voting. We must make sure to select the right candidate to represent us.
It's 24th September today, it is one of the black days in the history of Dalits. 24/9/1932 was when Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar were denied separate electorates; the day of the Poona Pact (dual voting system). If Dalits were allotted separate electorates, things would have been different for Dalits.
That's past, but today the voting system is still not right. We (Dalits) need to fight for separate electorates (Poona Pact) in the future to achieve equal opportunities. We have invited Jignesh Mewani to the forum. We will discuss the permanent solutions for the issues starting from Karnataka, and spreading all over India.
DC: Migrant workers do not really get to vote because their voting option is in their native places, and they are too poor to go back and forth to vote. Shouldn't they have voting rights in the place where they live?
BP: There are a lot of technicalities around that issue. If they are living in a particular place for over six months, they have to make sure that they get their address proof done so that they get a voter ID.
People living in some of the slums of Bangalore do not posses title deeds for their houses, but they have been living in those houses for decades. This is irresponsible behavior on the part of the people. In order to claim property and have ownership, one must take the responsibility to make sure they posses required documents. That gives a certain confidence to people to make their own decisions in terms of their voting rights.
DC: Manual Scavenging is still a reality in Karnataka and Devadasi system is still practised especially in North Karnataka; both these inhuman systems involve Dalits. How is your movement going to fight against this?
BP: Our country has developed so much since independence. We have successfully sent satellites to the moon, but when we look deeper into the reality, I feel ashamed that we still continue to have this heinous job, manual scavenging. For instance, in Kolar (a district of Karnataka), four individuals succumbed to death in a pit in the recent past. That is just one example. There are various modern technologies for safe disposal and sanitation. But the government is least bothered to take the initiative to implement latest technologies because manual scavengers are Dalit men and women. They (dominant forces) want to keep the Dalit communities in their place as these dominant forces are scared of Dalit power. The ban on manual scavenging should be reimplemented in reality not just on paper. The manual scavenger's right to better pay and better living conditions needs to be taken care of.
In north Karnataka, the Devadasi system – prostitution in the name of religion and god – needs to be banned. People need to be educated around this issue. This may take a long time, as it is tied to superstitious and religious beliefs. Governments show false generosity and do nothing about these issues. We will fight for the rights of all downtrodden people.
Watch Part 2 of the interview here.
DC: Babasaheb Ambedkar said that Hinduism is the root cause of the problem. What is your take on it?
BP: According to Baba Saheb, Hindu Dharma is standing on the basis of the caste system. If the caste system crumbles, there is no dharma there. This building here, stands on its foundation. it's not possible to keep it standing without the foundation. Hindu dharma is the tower of falsity that's standing on the foundation of casteism. He also said that Hindu dharma is like a building with four storeys which has no staircase or ladders. Whoever belongs to the first storey, the second storey, the third storey, the fourth storey… they remain there forever. The ones who are at the bottom cannot reach the fourth floor nor can the ones on the top floor reach the bottom floors. Such a strict system of brahmans, the purohits (priests) and the religious practices has been established.
Some say that the varnas/castes are based on professions and not assigned at birth. Although it feels nice to hear it, is it practised? No. Me, my son… the ones who gave birth to me, the caste of my father is the caste that I am identified with. They say, "knowledge makes the brahmin, the work makes you a shudra, your actions make you kshatriya/vaishya". If learning the Agama Shastra makes me a brahmin, with a little effort I could learn it, but the status, the respect given to a brahmin, will it be given to me in today's world? There is a practice where brahmins alone eat first at a feast. I could internalize their ways but because I am not a brahmin by birth, and that I have only learnt the shastras, will I be granted a position among them? This system will never be implemented in india. It is a blatant lie that caste is assigned by your actions and not by birth. It's to pacify us and to give us an illusion that casteism is non-existent and hence it is meant to exploit us. If the caste system crumbles, Hinduism will not survive. As long as the caste system exists, this dharma will be there. That's it.
DC: Did the Praveen Poojari issue create conflicts within BJP and cause Dalits and other marginalised sections within BJP to revolt?
BP: It's a very strict system that we have. Be it BJP, RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, the system does not allow anyone to question anyone. To tell you the truth, I was brought up in the RSS ecosystem myself. There were a lot of camps organised – for kids, they called it Balashibira, for students a little older than that, the ones under the 10th grade, a camp called ITC is organised and for the ones older than that, OTC is organized. Some are 3 day camps, some are a week long, some are 20-30 days long. The ones trained here are recruited into various wings. They train them to accept the doctrines taught to them but never to question them. You can't question them. The environment disables us from questioning the authority. A thousand people gather in these camps and everyone listens and no one questions. Even if you question them, you will not get any answers. If some one gathers up the courage to say that the issue may have another side to it, he will be observed closely, pacified with a "we'll talk about this later". He may get disillusioned and quit the organisation or he may be institutionalized and participate in their schemes.
In the same vein, when Praveen Poojary was murdered, immediately after the incident, the BJP paid his family a visit and also gave them about 5 lakh rupees as compensation. Also, the BJP foot soldiers who committed the murder, when they were being arrested, were reassured that there was nothing to worry and they (BJP) will have them released. They are fighting for their principles, it may look wrong to us, but it's the ultimate truth to them. If someone voices opposing views, be it their son, their own foot soldier, they kill them. They don't bother with trying to have a dialogue or trying to correct them, they resort to murder right away. They believe in the Bhagavad Gita. This is a war and whoever is on the opposing side – be it their son, father or grandfather – they don't care. They fight for their principles only. They want to win even through lies and deceit. If you are asked to kill, you have to go ahead and kill, and that is their duty. Such is the belief system they hold. They are double agents who claim that they worship cows and also fund rioters, accept bribes, and play their game of politics. But all they see at the moment is that they are supposed to worship cows, their party believes in the protection of cows and a party worker is involved in the trade of cows and so he has to be killed. There is no way you can raise a voice to speak against them.
For the information of the BJP foot soldiers, there is a goshala (a place where domesticated cows are kept) in Mysore. And there is a machine in the goshala. This machine powders and packages the flesh and bones of cows. What is such a machine doing in a goshala? There are several cows seized when there is a violation of trafficking laws of cattle, they are given to such goshalas.. there is one such goshala in Davanagere too.. there are a lot of big goshalas.. thousands of cows are kept there. Has anyone asked what happens to these cows? Which RTI has demanded the information regarding this? There are none. Every day hundreds and thousands of cows are sent to this goshala. They have a limit there… they span up to 50 acres, 30 acres etc. how many cows can be housed in such places? If there are already a thousand cows there, what has been happening to the ones that come in every day?
Are the 33 crore gods that they believe in, taking them to their deliverance seeing that they are old? Nah! There in broad daylight they bribe the gau rakshaks, take these cows in and kill them. They use the machine to powder the bones, muscles etc to manufacture fodder for poultry hens. If you visit any poultry, you will find the name of the company.. I am unable to recall its name.. and their many products. If you try to trace where their products come from, you will find that it comes from the goshalas. you can also find their labels in the goshalas. You have to reflect on their actions. If I worship my cow like a mother, and with a lot of love and affection entrust them to the gau rakshaks, they kill it and powder its mortal remains to feed hens. Are they dharma rakshaks, or are they agents of death? You can't even question about the whereabouts of the cows. Let them be accountable.
The other day there was a person on Facebook who claimed "one can't come to stop me in Udupi.. I am a proud communalist and I am unstoppable". Why would i want to stop you, brother? I am coming to lead to the ways of the constitution drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar, to the truth that would enlightened you. If you read a page of what he wrote, a day, you will find the problems that plague the nation and their solutions. In fact the problems of the entire world could be solved by studying Babasaheb. If it's a problem of wealth, he discussed it in the "The Problem of the Rupee: Its origin and its solution", he facilitated the construction of Bhakra Nangal dam to address the water woes and kickstarting irrigation schemes, he has discussed the evils of communalism in his treatise on the Hindu dharma, he had a solution even for the Kashmir issue. There is nothing he does not have a solution for. He is an asset to the world. if everyone strictly followed the constitution he has given us, we would have had peace. Ignoring the constitution, if we try to proclaim mythical works like Mahabharata or Ramayana as the national scripture, we are just making way for our destruction.
DC: The Dalit struggles which have been happening throughout the country have caused a blow to Sangh Parivar forces. In UP Amit Shah had to even cancel his rally. Do you think a similar situation would happen in Karnataka?
BP: It's already here. When we light a lamp, there is sufficient oil in the lamp at first. It burns bright for a while. But how long will it burn? This is not a lamp that's burning on its own. Be it Amit Shah, Modi, the BJP government, their success is not a result of hard toil, nor are they good leaders. All they have done is ensure that the oil sufficient for sustenance of the lamp, is available. Consider the Vibrant Gujarat model that they showcased. They have photoshopped images of bus stations and railway stations from Italy, America and Japan. How long can the government stand on the goodwill generated by such gimmicks?
Someday someone will go to Gujarat, with high expectations of witnessing a growth similar to America, but will see the same drainage, slums, the same cattle, the same beggars. They have claimed that America was nothing compared to Gujarat. The lies that they have spoken for the past 3 years will come down crumbling. If Modi contests the elections from a constituency in Gujarat, I can bet that he will lose. Can Amit Shah contest an election and emerge victorious? If he holds a rally, will there be a good turnout? Consider the scenario in UP. The lamp that's burning has consumed all the oil. They do not have the resources to fuel it anymore. Ram was a resource that they used up to fuel the Ayodhya issue; for a while they used cows, and then the Gujarat model for a while. Now their can is empty. Their resources have been exhausted. there is no oil only water. Add the water and the the lamp will be extinguished. Like the lamp burns the brightest before it dies, this lamp of BJP will burn the entire country with fire before it's extinguished. The entire country should be cautious about it. Many people wonder if the BJP will emerge out of the situation with any dignity or will it burn the country to fuel it's own lamp by going to war with Pakistan. By doing this, they'll push the country back by 50 years and the bhakts (who believe that Modi is the ultimate god) will hail Modi as our saviour. But we as a nation have to be vigilant. They are leading us to the path of Hindu dharma and ultra nationalism. if we ignore him, Modi will not succeed. We should be on our guard and not be misled by these provocations and instead must think calmly and see Modi for what he is. If we do this, our nation might just survive for the coming centuries. If not, we will all burn to our death.
DC: Are Muslim organisations taking part in the Chalo Udupi movement?
BP: Yes. As I said before, damanita – dalit damanita resistance association. These damanitas are not limited to any religion or caste. There are lots of them who have associated with us not just a couple of Muslim associations. All the Muslim organizations from Udupi, Bangalore, Central Karnataka, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Raichur, Imam Godekar – a notable name from Bellary, they have all organized gatherings and discussed the intention of this movement saying that these are our rights we are fighting for and that this is a movement this country needs in times like this. These were all self actuated actions. No one called them up and asked them for support. We are just propagating our message and the people inspired by it are joining us.
DC: How do you support the differences between adidravida and adikarnataka?
BP: Maybe, in times like these, questions like these are better not asked. Not when we are going to achieve something so much bigger than ourselves. These little conflicts that a few Dalit camps may have, can all be sorted with dialogue. This is not the time for it. It's a tussle we have within our family. In this family there are several members who hold different sets of belief systems. When the family of organizations have come together to start a movement, issues like these, which originated mostly because of politicians who have created these differences between us to save their own backs, if we ignore these issues we will survive. If we start responding to these questions raised, we will be facilitating the breakage of our unity. Such problems do exist. But we have to sort out our differences ourselves. Asking these questions outside will do us no good.
DC: Whom do you think the exploited Dalits should be with, communist left wing or right wing?
BP: Dalits need not be with right or left. They don't have to be either. They should be Ambedkarite.
DC: The person you have appointed as spokesperson has released a statement today saying Dalit organisations should ignore the right wing and choose the left wing as the way forward.
BP: This is what I would call media tactics. They all focus on what I said and try to twist it best for their gains. I can't answer for Jignesh Mevani. But I am of the opinion that the members of Dalit organisations may go left, or right, or wherever… just be Ambedkarite. Let your thoughts and actions keep Ambedkar's advice in mind. As I already said, if there is a way to be followed that will lead us to a solution for the world's problems, it's the Ambedkar way. If you adhere to his principles, be it in right wing or left wing, you will retain your humanity.
DC: You also said that there is a third group that has extended its support to you?
BP: Oh yes! There are many organisations participating in the Udupi movement – Dalit organisations, leftist organisations, writers, individuals who are interested etc. but I am especially happy about one involvement – it is the support extended to our struggle by the transgender community. They are the ones expelled from the society not because of caste or religion but for their gender. I'll tell you what she wrote to me: "I am Veena. I belong to the transgender community. I have been following the developments regarding the Udupi Chalo movement. I am also a victim of the society's discrimination. The problems being reflected in the Udupi movement are very much relatable to our conditions. Hence me and my organization would like to volunteer our support to the Udupi Chalo movement." She posted it on Facebook and messaged us. We are fighting because we have a problem. But their community is the one whose entire life is a struggle. They have no right to vote, no right to a job, nobody mingles with them. The hijracommunity – they say we should not address them so but they have been identified with these terms, they are not permitted to marry, to hold jobs, no opportunities in politics. In fact, they can't live as human beings with others in a community. They could have disregarded us, saying that your problems pale in comparison with our issues. But they have treated the Udupi problems as their own and I extend my first and the foremost welcome to them. They have extended their self motivated, spirited support to the movement. Their involvement strengthens our movement further.
DC: What is your message to Karnataka and the rest of the states?
BP: The Udupi Chalo movement has been made possible by the support and work of many friends, and the guidance of elders in Karnataka. It has turned out to be a very strong movement. Many of the state's writers, intellectuals stand as the backbone of the movement. A lot of people who have established strong unions and organizations and a lot of common folks have joined and vocalized their support to the movement. When there is a movement as strong and large as this, I ask for the people of the state to be vigilant. There could be several attempts to stop and disband our efforts by the followers of Manu. There could be attacks on us, threats, they could infiltrate our movement and try to sabotage our efforts. But this is our land, our grains, our choice, our rights. There are several issues at the bottom of these intentions. There have been many instances of exploitation and oppression related to food, land. There have been many instances of oppression, exploitation, murders related to land. Moreover, there have been several women who have been exploited, raped. This movement has taken shape keeping all these issues in mind. Whatever may be your goals, principles, let us consider this as our goal. No one can deny our rights to food and land. We should condemn the attacks that have been made on women. We should consider the progress of the third gender too. These are all inalienable rights that we are fighting for. Apart from a few people who consider dharma to be ultimate and that your patriotism stems from it, everyone will agree with us. Until we reach our goal, let us not be distracted by rumours, let us have the maturity to overcome our differences and stand strong. Let us be an example to this country. This is my request to everyone.
Watch Part 3 of the interview here.
Published with minor edits.
First published in Round Table India.
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